- Ken Duke
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April 4, 1975, was a groundbreaking day. Among bass historians, it ranks with July 4, 1776, or December 7, 1941.
That was the day Dee Thomas, a Newark, Calif., grocery store produce manager, won the Arkansas Invitational on Bull Shoals Lake. But it wasn't his winning weight (35 pounds, 6 ounces) or even the fact that he was the first Californian to win a BASS tournament that made the event special. It was the way he won.
A few years earlier, Thomas was a specialist with a technique called "tule dipping." It utilized a 12-foot pole and a short length of stout monofilament line. With it, Thomas could reach back into the dense vegetation found in the California Delta and catch bass other anglers couldn't reach. He won the majority of tournaments he entered.
So, quite predictably, tournament organizers decided to rewrite the rules and prohibit rods longer than 7 1/2 feet. No matter. Thomas just shortened his rods and created a new way of presenting baits to those same bass he once reached with his tule dipping pole.
He called the new technique "flippin'. And he continued to win.
In 1975, Thomas struck a sponsorship deal with Fenwick, who subsequently made the first commercial flippin' rod or "Flippin' Stik." Thomas also realized a personal goal and came east to fish a couple of BASS tournaments.
In the first, the 1975 Louisiana Invitational on Toledo Bend Reservoir, Thomas never found the fish and reverted to conventional cast-and-retrieve tactics for a mediocre finish. But in the second, the Arkansas Invitational on Bull Shoals Lake, he decided to stick with the technique that had produced so well for him back in California.
His win changed the history of bass fishing and made flippin' an international phenomenon.
Thomas identified three key tenets of flippin' that are as true today as they were more than 30 years ago:
1. There are always some bass in shallow water.
2. A shallow fish is a biting fish.
3. The key to catching shallow water fish is presentation.
His pendulum-like "flips" were just the ticket for quietly presenting a jig or worm to bass in places that conventional casts could never reach. Thomas was fishing for bass that may not have seen lures before... and he was catching them. It only made sense that the technique would catch on.
The first story about flippin' that appeared in Bassmaster Magazine was in the July/August 1975 issue. The cover read, "Dee Thomas' Super Secret Weapon."
Today, flippin' has expanded to pitchin', and few serious bass anglers ever go out on the water without one or more flippin' rods in the boat. Millions and millions of dollars have been won with the technique, and no other method before or since is as effective at catching big bass or pulling fish from heavy cover.